Home » News » Places To Paddle » Page 2

Category: Places To Paddle

A Jewel on the south side has finally been discovered

By Michael Taylor

No motor boats, no barges, and deep enough not to scratch the bottom of your boat.  Finally the secret of a beautiful flowing river in the southern suburbs of Chicago has been rediscovered.  In the fall of 2015, the Cook County Forest Preserve opened a new boat ramp along the Little Calumet River at the Kickapoo Woods Forest Preserves.  The immediate feedback from paddlers and novice alike was that it is a perfect venue.  Kickapoo Woods offers plenty of parking in a safe, well-lit area for paddlers to enjoy.  Not only does the new launch site offer easy, safe access to the river, but the location along the shallow portion of the Upper Little Calumet River makes it a perfect place for beginner and intermediate paddlers.  Meander is the perfect verb and noun describing the paddling experience on this section of the river.  The river bends and curves, and on most days, the river’s flow is calm enough to offer a gentle riding experience in the great outdoors.

Join the coalition of outdoor enthusiasts and community organizations in not only a river clean up, but an introduction to both canoeing and kayaking on this gem in the southern suburbs. Saturday morning, June 4 2016, is the day of the “Little Calumet River Day at Kickapoo Woods;” please join us on exploring this secret south side treasure.

Winter Paddling Inspiration

Need some inspiration for winter paddling, or at least a little reminder of the advantages? Check out this article about winter paddling from The Southern Illinoisan: http://thesouthern.com/lifestyles/magazine/recreation/kayaking-a-great-way-to-relieve-the-stress-of-a/article_23d46c03-7021-58de-bb25-e81b8e454374.html

Although it’s focused on winter paddling in the warmer end of the state (i.e., Southern Illinois), the images evoked and tips provided are applicable state-wide. Though you might want to check out Paul Klonowski’s article on cold weather paddling in this TIP before heading out.

New Launch Site on Little Calumet River

The little calumet river enters Illinois from North West Indiana and flows through the south and south-west suburbs into the Cal-Sag Channel and eventually into Lake Michigan. A full description of the river can be found on the OpenLands Web Site: http://www.openlands.org/calumet-area-water-trails


On September 26, the Forest Preserves if Cook County commemorated the grand opening of a new Launch Site at Kickapoo Woods by inviting the community out for free canoe rides. Over forty people enjoyed their first canoe trip.


Kickapoo woods is located off of Halstead, Between 147th and 144th in Riverdale IL. Park opposite of the model airplane flying field. There is a short carry to the river.  https://goo.gl/maps/euQVnQNuzv82


Banner Marsh Water Trail Project

Banner Marsh Water Trail Project

by Jeff Fitch7135278z(1)

Exciting things are happening in Central Illinois! A new water trail project has been in the making over the last year and the signs should be installed in the first loop of the 4 planned loops very soon known as the Wheel Lake loop. These “Loop Trails” will not require car shifts as you end up where you started!  I targeted only one trail per year but if time permits I will attempt to install the second loop trail signs this fall on Johnson lake. If not, they will be in place by spring of 2016.


The SFWA embraced the water trail idea when I presented it to them and they gave me permission to lay out the first water trail this area has ever seen! Banner has 4 main lakes and I am beginning with the northernmost lake, Wheel Lake. 350 acres at normal pool this lake has islands and many  interesting coves to explore. This 4 mile loop has 100’s of options to deviate off of the trail but be aware of your surroundings as all lakes at Banner are very maze like. You could easily triple the loop mileage if you explored the whole shoreline. For deeper exploration, a nice hand held GPS is suggested.

Wheel Lake LoopJohnson Lake Loop

Johnson Lake loop is a larger loop at a tentative 7.7 miles. This may change12004829_903718459706277_1201241421170180708_n as most of my energy has been spent on the Wheel lake layout and the final route may change at Johnson. Johnson lake is the largest lake at Banner with 600 acres of water at normal pool. The loop trail here also offers 100’s of options off of the trail to explore. GPS again is suggested.
This excerpt is taken from the DNR web page:

“Banner Marsh State Fish & Wildlife Area is located approximately 25 miles southwest of Peoria on U.S. Route 24 and is protected from the Illinois River by a major levee. Teeming with fish and wildlife, Banner Marsh provides various outdoor activities, including hunting, fishing, boating, dog training, picnicking, wildlife observation and photography. Three public access areas lead into Banner Marsh, all of which have parking lots, boat ramps, restrooms and picnic areas. The only type of camping allowed at Banner Marsh is youth group camping. Nearby Rice Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area has camping facilities available.



Prior to the Department of Natural Resources purchasing tracts of land bordering the Illinois River in Fulton and Peoria counties during the 1980s, the area was used for agricultural purposes and surfaced mined for coal.


Today, Banner Marsh State Fish & Wildlife Area serves as a 4,363-acre freshwater marsh. More than 200-plus water bodies, and its vast acres of grassland and shrub land habitats provide excellent habitat for migrating and local waterfowl, numerous species of game fish and other wildlife, while providing opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts.”


Come explore Banner and paddle this beautiful lake system. Be mindful of waterfowl season October 17th-Jan31 as no boat traffic is permitted at that time. Call  the Rice lake office as it is the office that governs both Rice lake and Banner Marsh. 309-647-9184 . Please  remember that we are only one spoke in the wheel at Banner so please respect others, obey the closure times during hunting season and never intentionally interfere with the wildlife as we are in their world out here.


My Favorite River: West Branch DuPage River

By: Don Mueggenborg

It was just one of those near perfect days – in spite of the weather reports. The temperature had dropped from 90 degrees when I left Lemont, down to 87 with a soft breeze.   Our destination was the Mack Road landing (and dog park).

A couple years ago, funds became available to clean up toxic waste left over from about 1940 or earlier. Much of the river bottom was dredged and replaced. It is probably one of the cleanest rivers in Illinois now. When they redid the river, someone thought it would be a good idea to place boulders in the river – to increase the flow? In low water, these can be a problem, especially paddling upstream.

Today the river was up some and we headed up stream. Negotiating between boulders and fast current in a winding stream was a challenge at times.

As we approached Gary’s Mill Road, there were fewer boulders and a lot of yellow water lilies. Upstream of Rt 38, we lost the water lilies and the water was rather quiet.

Tree lined banks, a grove of dead trees off to the west, trees with vines (probably Virginia Creeper – they will be beautiful come fall).   One old Oak stood out with its many branches reaching out in all directions.

Cormorants in the trees, herons, a cardinal flew right by almost close enough to touch. Kingfishers. I was surprised no turtles sunning themselves.

An hour took us to Gary’s Mill Forest Preserve and time to return.

Now with the current, things looked a little different. We looked for the V between rock and tried to find the fastest current.

The takeout came too soon.

We had plenty of company – 9 kayaks passed us headed downstream – not one group, but singles or pairs. One with a small girl spread over her father’s bow while he pulled the kayak. It was a long trip for her.

There are canoe landings in Winfield, at Mack Road, in Warrenville, and McDowell Woods. (The landing in Winfield is about ½ block off the road, but the bank is really not too steep to launch right there.)   In Warrenville, they removed the picturesque dam leaving a chute you can paddle. (Takeout either upstream or downstream of the chute.)

McDowell Woods has a takeout just a few feet from the parking lot (each stretch should take about an hour and a half or so).

Below McDowell Woods, there is a rocky chute where a dam was removed. Downstream is what I call the guillotine dam. (The gates drop down like the blade ready to behead a canoe when they close off the dam.) There is a drop at the dam. The forest preserve tells you to portage and be safe. I understand that there was a problem there earlier this year.

You can continue on past the Naperville Riverwalk to Pioneer Park.

You can go upstream from Winfield, over a small dam that you can paddle over. One winter we took our big canoe upstream from Winfield on a warm January day and paddled through fields of snow. Beautiful. We also have done a guerilla put-in (park at the side of the road and put in by a bridge) at St Charles Road (water very low). We paddled past a golf course and picked up dozens of balls. We gave them to the first golfer we saw.

In low water, you do not want to paddle an aluminum boat in the West branch where we did.


MFork1It took a dedicated group of people 22 years to prevent a dam from flooding this scenic river in

Central Illinois – Gateway to North America’s Grand Prairie

Read Dr. Clark Bullard’s article on HOW THE MIDDLEFORK GOT ITS NAME

In 1836 the Illinois country was the frontier, and many forts and outposts were vying for the role of “Gateway to the West.” One competitor was Amando D. Higgins, a real estate developer from New York who traveled up the Wabash and followed the Vermilion River into the Illinois country. West of Danville, he followed the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River into the Grand Prairie. Stopping at a point where the river was more than 150 feet wide and still navigable to steamers, and ample firewood was available, he founded Higginsville — the Gateway to the West — and advertised lots for sale in the New York papers. His 1837 plats show he named the town “Vermilion Rapids,” for the barrier that marked the end of the navigable part of the river.

According to The History of Vermilion County (1879), Higgins had great plans for his town, “where boats could take on products of the rich farming lands for miles around… Direct communication would be kept up all year with New Orleans, Rio, Cuba and Europe…” Unfortunately the draining of the prairie wetlands caused all rivers in Illinois to shrink substantially during summer months, after carrying off the spring rains in raging torrents. Many mills went bankrupt and had to move to larger rivers.

Higginsville today consists of only a few houses and a cemetery. It is better known as the most popular put-in point for canoeists enjoying Illinois’ only National Scenic River. Permanently protected since 1989 by the state and federal governments, this 17-mile segment of the MiddleFork and its 8,000 acres of adjoining public parks and wildlife areas is a truly unique recreational and ecological resource.

National Scenic River designation followed a bitter 22-year battle over a proposal to drown the river and its valley under a proposed “MiddleFork Reservoir.” By blurring the words together, dam boosters attempted to deprive the MiddleFork of its identity as a river. The semantic conflict was a subtle yet powerful dimension of the political debate.

That struggle is behind us now, and Illinois has a National Scenic River protected by state and federal law and National Park Service regulations. The future generations who enjoy the river will know it by its proper name: The MiddleFork of the Vermilion — Gateway to North America’s Grand Prairie. Another place claimed the honor of being gateway to the West.

More details on the history here: http://prairierivers.org/MiddleFork/MiddleFork/MiddleFork/Home.html

And photos from a trip on the MiddleFork by Voytek Miezal.



Plum River Report

By Joe Ginger


On July 29 and lasting until July 31st, the Plum River in Savanna, Illinois, will benefit from the efforts of individuals with the goals of making a navigable stream completely open for paddling, fishing, and wildlife interests, in short, creating a recreational destination for area residents and tourists. When completed, the Plum River will present 9.7 miles of paddling which uniquely requires only a two mile car shuttle. The stream is currently blocked by at least four known logjams. This problem will be addressed by a plan to manage timber stands along the river. The project combines three day community work and concurrent with one week AmeriCorps team work.

One of the significant features of the project is the resources deployed in the effort. The list includes, Carroll County Soil and Water Conservation District, Blackhawk Hills Regional Council, Savanna, Mt. Carroll and AmeriCorps Team, area contractors, residents, and local landowners. Volunteers and donations are welcome. For more information on efforts to connect scenic Old Mill Park to the Mississippi, and later from Mt. Carroll to Spring Lake to Thomson, check it out at:



Using Technology to Help Plan Your Next Paddle

By Mike Cocat

You just learned about a new stretch of river, and you’re doing your homework prior to heading out. How do you calculate trip distance? With Google’s free online mapping tool, it’s easy! Just follow the steps below to get started:

  1. Using any internet browser on any computer you can access the mapping tool at http://google.com/maps.
  2. Locate the lake/river you want to measure. This can be done in multiple ways. Search for a point of interest close to your put-in, like a forest preserve name or city. If you are familiar with the area, just zoom in to the location using your mouse wheel or the on-screen zoom function.
  3. Right click on the portion of water where you intend to start your paddle, when the menu pops up, click “Measure distance.”
  4. Now, with your left mouse button, click a section of water in the direction you will be heading. Immediately it will begin to calculate your distance between clicks and add up the total distance. This will be displayed on the screen near your most recent click.
  5. Proceed to click along your intended trip path. Note, that each click will be a straight line from your previous click, when going around bends make sure you follow the contour of the water.
  6. Feel free to click and drag the map, or zoom in and out, as you plot your trip.
  7. When you reach your take-out, click one final time and take notice of the final trip distance. If you look back at your path, it will be conveniently marked at each mile increment.

A video demonstration – https://youtu.be/upf0OcL2hGg

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to ask on the PSC/Yahoo mailing list, zenpaddler.com, or via my email.

Mike Cocat



My Favorite Rivers – Nippersink Creek

By Don Mueggenborg

If you like to paddle narrow, winding rivers – the Nippersink might be just what you want. If you like to paddle an hour or two without seeing houses, farms, or people – the Nippersink. Add to that glacier remnants called Kames that rise as small hills for a different kind of scenery – the Nippersink.

Over one hundred ago, the land the creek ran through was farmed. By taking the bends out of the creek, it was easier to farm, so they straightened the creek. Then the Kames were in the way of a proposed highway, so there was a proposal to cut them down.

Enter the McHenry Conservation District. They acquired the land for a park. To draw people’s attention to the beauty of the area, they started the Trail of History – a historical re-enactment.   (As a re-enactor, it was a beautiful sight to behold, and the re-enactment was the most educational that I have attended, with many different displays.)

From an aerial photograph, the original creekbed could be seen, so the Conservation District has re-routed the creek to its original course – adding many bends and at least a half hour to the trip.

The trip begins at Keystone landing, just southwest of Rts 31 and 12 in McHenry County. The water is usually on the low side, especially since the creek was re-routed. This requires some river reading. (Expect to hit bottom once or twice with your paddle or even with your boat). Bends are somewhat tricky since the river has not yet carved out a clear channel.

And you see the Kames from all angles.

Boulders have been placed in the river to make it more natural. In time, they will be moved by current and probably make the passage easier.

All of this makes for a scenic paddle and sometimes a technical paddle – certainly a paddle in solitude. A chance to appreciate nature.

Pioneer Park is the destination – a couple to three hours paddle. You can continue on with more farmland and fewer bends to Spring Grove and to the Nippersink Canoe Base on route 12. Each stretch is a couple hours of quiet paddling away from the hustle bustle of the city. (Beyond the Nippersink Canoe Base, the creek is channelized down to the Fox River, where one encounters power boats – and the quiet is forgotten. I suggest stopping at the canoe base.)

nippersink 1     nippersink 2